Mexican Recipes

Tomales with Chile Sauce- Hello San Diego!

 Back in San Diego, California

 After spending more than 30 years in Adelaide, South Australia, Len and I decided to shift back to San Diego, as part of our plan to spend part of the year in the U.S. and part of the year in Australia. Yes, the sun does shine a lot in Southern California, and while a lot of the country is suffering with heat and humidity, we are enjoying the mild summer here with cool ocean breezes.

We felt we had definitely landed in San Diego when we realized we were the only customers (out of about 50) who were speaking English in a cable T.V. store that we were visiting. With a large Hispanic population, you are more apt to hear Spanish being spoken in Southern California, rather than English.

So, what better way to celebrate our visit to San Diego, than to cook up some Mexican recipes from scratch! Here is a recipe for Pork Tamales in Chile Sauce, using soft shredded pork wrapped around a rich cornmeal dough (called masa in Spanish) and topped with a spicy chili (chile) sauce.

The tamale dough is made from a Corn Masa Mix, which is ground corn treated with lime. I drove to a special Mexican grocery store near the Mexican border to buy this mix and then the next day saw this was sold in all supermarkets here!

So go on, toss out those old El Paso instant taco seasoning mixes (like I did) and grind up your own chiles to make up your own delicious Mexican dishes from scratch!

Note:  I found that the first batch of tamales turned out rather bland, so I kept on adding enough chile powder and cumin to the shredded pork to get the taste to my liking.

Pork Tamales in Chile Sauce


For the Pork Filling:

  • pork butt or shoulder roast (1 – 2 lbs or 500 g to 1 kg)
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 peppercorns
  • 1 cinnamon stick (optional)
  • 1/2 onion, coarsely chopped

For the Chile Sauce:

  • 2 ancho chiles, seeded
  • 3 arbol chiles, seeded
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 3 cups (750 ml) pork cooking broth
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup (75 g) corn starch or corn flour
  • 1 tsp sugar

For the Tamale Dough (‘Masa’)

  • 4 cups (1.25 kg) Corn Masa Mix*
  • 2 tsp chile powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3 – 4 cups lukewarm water
  • 1 cup (250 g) pork lard or solid vegetable shortening
  • Salt to taste
  • 30 dried corn husks

* Corn Masa Mix is ground corn treated with lime. This can be found in food specialty shops or just about any supermarket in Southern California.


For the Pork Filling:

  • Place the pork, garlic, salt, peppercorns, onion and cinnamon stick in a large saucepan or Dutch oven. Add enough water to cover the ingredients. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam. Reduce heat to low, cover the pan and simmer until the meat is tender and falls off the bone (about 2 hours).
  • When the meat is cooked, transfer to a bowl and set aside. Strain the remaining cooking broth through a sieve; there should be at least three cups of broth remaining (if not, top-up with more water).
  • After the meat cools, shred using several forks.

For the Chile Sauce:

  • Remove the stems from the ancho and arbol chiles; slit the chiles down the middle and remove the seeds. Toast the chiles by placing them in a fry pan on the stovetop. Over medium heat, press the chiles down using a spatula, about 1 minute each side. The chiles should turn color slightly and be dry and toasted.
  • Chop the chiles coarsely, then place them in a blender with about 1/2 cup of the pork cooking broth. Blend until the mixture is smooth in consistency. Add this chile mixture to the reserved pork cooking broth.
  • Now add 1/2 cup water (room temperature) to 1/2 cup corn starch (or corn flour) to make a paste. Gradually add this paste to the cooking broth, while stirring over medium-low heat, to thicken.
  • After the sauce has thickened, add the sugar, cumin powder and salt to taste. Add more cumin if you like your food spicier.
  • Add about 3/4 cup of the chile sauce to the shredded pork mixture for flavoring. Add some chile powder to the pork for extra flavouring, if desired.

                                  Arbol Chiles – very potent!

IMG_5252                                 Ancho Chiles – sweet and smoky flavor


For the Tamale Dough:

  • In large bowl, stir together the corn masa mix, baking powder and chile powder. Add enough luke-warm water (3 – 4 cups) to make a moist batter.
  • Now stir in the pork lard or vegetable shortening, beating until the mixture is light and spreadable. Add salt to taste. Knead the dough slightly with your hands to form a ball of dough.
  • Soak about 30 dried corn husks in water for 15 minutes. Drain and pat dry.

To Assemble the Tomales:

  • Form a small ball using about 2 tbsp of the dough mixture and place in the middle of corn husk (which has been soaked in water).


  •  Spread the dough into a thin layer (1/8 inch thick) on the lower half of the corn husk, leaving a margin of about 1 inch around the sides and bottom of the husk.


  •  Spread 2 tbsp of the shredded pork in the center of the dough


  •  Fold the long edges of the husk over the filling, overlapping them.


  • Fold under the pointed end of the husk.


  • Turn the tamale over. Tie the top end of each tamale using thin strips cut from the corn husks.



Cooking the Tamales

  •  To steam the tamales, take a large pot or Dutch oven and place a round wire rack on the bottom. Fill the bottom of the pot with water, with the water level ending slightly below the rack.
  • If you are steaming lots of tomales, place the first tamales in the center of the pot and then work them around the pot in a circular fashion (I only cooked a small batch of tamales, so I placed them inside several pastry rings to support them in the middle of the pot).
  • Place a lid on top and steam on medium heat for about 1 hour, or until the dough falls easily away from the corn husk. Be careful that the water does not touch the tamales as they cook.


  • To serve, spoon the chile sauce on top of the tamales.


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  • Maureen | Orgasmic Chef
    July 17, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    Holy cow! You’ve shifted to the US? I love San Diego – what a perfect climate.

    I haven’t had these in such a long time and never from San Diego!

    Congratulations on the move.
    Maureen | Orgasmic Chef recently posted…Watermelon Ice and My First Sweet SwapMy Profile

  • Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella
    July 17, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    Thank you for the very clear directions on how to make this! 😀 I’ve had them in Argentina and really enjoyed them 🙂
    Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella recently posted…Prato Cafe Diner, AbbotsfordMy Profile

    • Fran
      July 18, 2013 at 8:27 am

      Interesting! I read that tamales in Argentina are slightly different that Mexican ones- they sometimes contain raisins or lamb, instead of pork!
      Fran recently posted…Tomales with Chile Sauce- Hello San Diego!My Profile

  • GourmetGetaways
    July 17, 2013 at 9:04 pm

    Oh wow!!
    I have never even seen a dish like this before. I would love to try this recipe 🙂
    Thank you so much for sharing 🙂

    • Fran
      July 18, 2013 at 8:32 am

      Thanks for your comment, Julie. I imagine for those living in Queensland, it wouldn’t be too difficult to find some dried corn husks to cook the tamales in. Or, you could dry them yourself, it’s not too difficult.
      Fran recently posted…Tomales with Chile Sauce- Hello San Diego!My Profile

  • [email protected]
    July 18, 2013 at 7:40 am

    San Diego is wonderful! Great place, super climate – just a nice place to live. And making your own tamales? Awesome! They’re not hard, really, but they do take a bit of work. These are super! Really great flavors. Thanks.
    joh[email protected] recently posted…The Harvey Wallbanger CocktailMy Profile

    • Fran
      July 20, 2013 at 7:42 am

      Yes, they do require a bit of effort, particularly if you’re making 30 tamales. I suppose that’s why the Hispanic families usually make this a group effort to make the tamales.
      Fran recently posted…Tomales with Chile Sauce- Hello San Diego!My Profile

  • Juliana
    July 18, 2013 at 7:50 am

    Oh Fran, welcome back to Southern California…and yes to the beautiful sunny California…we are very blessed living by the coast.
    The tamales look beautiful…what a great way to celebrate being back to California.
    Hope you are having a fantastic week 😀

  • Joanne
    July 20, 2013 at 10:51 pm

    San Diego is one of my favorite cities! And the mexican food there really just can’t be beat. I love tamales but never seem to make them myself. THese look fabulous!
    Joanne recently posted…Blueberry Lemon Cupcakes {giveaway}My Profile

  • Simply Sweet Justice
    July 31, 2013 at 10:03 am

    Congratulations on your move! I used to spend the summers near San Diego, and it such a pretty area! I hope you are getting settled and enjoying the sun!
    Simply Sweet Justice recently posted…One-Pan Farro with TomatoesMy Profile